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Teacups, Teapots and a Jolly Good Time

Let's talk about The English and their Cuppa

Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Growing up in Fulham, in the South West corner of London, I grew up with the belief that a Good Cup of Tea was all you needed to have a good day.  If something bad happened, "it's ok, let's have a cup of tea and everything will be better".  If something good happened, "ooh, that deserves a good cup of tea then" and of course just "I'm putting the kettle on" was a reminder to drink tea several times a day.  I like my tea with milk and 2 sugars and to add milk to your tea the tea leaves themselves have to be strong enough to keep their integrity once the milk is added.  If you are going to have a cup of tea, it needs to taste like tea (not "piss water" as my Mum would say). 

Everyday tea was ideally brewed in a teapot and then poured into a cup with a saucer. Nowadays, a single tea bag is used and mugs are more commonplace. Back in the frugal days, a teabag was used more than once and would be hung to dry for the next cup(s).

With an everyday cup of tea often came a biscuit: Digestives, Rich Tea, Ginger Nuts, Custard Creams, Bourbons and Jammy Dodgers to name a few of the iconic brands in most English pantries. The packets would be opened, shared and dunked into the tea for good measure. (No dunking at an Afternoon Tea though).The trick was not to keep the biscuit in the tea so long that it became soggy and broke off...This ritual was performed at any time of the day and was a way of getting people to sit down and take a minute.

Sundays were a special time for tea, served in the afternoon (and often before the obligatory Sunday Roast had been fully digested). It was a feast of finger sandwiches, scones, little cakes and biscuits and quite often a high calorie, decadent dessert such as a Victoria Sandwich Cake, Trifle, Fruit Pudding or Lemon Meringue Pie. Tea flowed for the duration and families were brought together at the end of a usually busy week. Of course, Afternoon Tea wasn't reserved for Sundays - it was enjoyed any day of the week and without need for celebration or formality. There really is nothing quite like being served an Afternoon Tea the right way - you will feel special, catered to and spoiled rotten.

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Finger sandwiches are to be eaten with your fingers, not a knife and fork.

Your tea cup handle should be held with your thumb and index fingers, no hooking of fingers through the handle itself. Your middle finger should gently support the handle. Feel free to extend your pinky as you see in the movies but it's not necessary......

When taking milk with your tea, the milk should be poured into the cup after the tea itself, this way you can gauge the strength of the tea.

Use a teaspoon to stir your tea, not in a circular motion but rather in a back and forth way, and please do not bang your spoon on the side of the cup. Do not leave your spoon in your cup as you drink it - place back on the right hand side of your saucer. 

One person is elected to be "Mother" and to pour the tea for the other guests.

"Shall I be mother?"

Etiquette at the Tea Table should be adhered to if one wishes to be "proper".  Here are a few of the basics......

There is an order in which to eat from the tiered stands, starting with sandwiches and savouries, then scones and finally sweets. Start at the bottom and work your way up to the top.  Take your time, it's not a race.

Scones should be split in half with your fingers, not a knife, and each half should be spread with butter and jam or clotted cream and jam (use a butter knife for this).

Clotted cream is incredibly rich so don't be piggish and put both together please. ( And please, please, please do not put clotted cream in your glorious cup of tea!

Finger sandwiches are delicate and crustless.  Some favourites include the quintessential cucumber, egg salad with watercress, salmon and dilled cream cheese and chicken salad.

Simple and delicious.  Mini Custard Tarts, chilled and with a dash of nutmeg

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